Sunday, 23 February 2014

THE POWER STRUGGLE FOR UKRAINE

The situation in Ukraine in the winter of 2013-2014 has many dimensions to it and it is hardly a case of "good pro-West rebels" fighting for democracy vs. "evil pro-Russian elements" represented by the Yanukovych regime (out of power as of 23/2/2014) that not even the Russians trust. A deeper and close look at both sides will reveal that corrupt and sinister elements are on both sides, that there are no angels vs. demons and the struggle is hardly about democracy vs. dictatorship, but rather about a pro-West integration model vs. a Russia-oriented one, both options with some good and many bad elements to them for the majority of the people. The media either in the West or in Russia has only contributed to the confusion, for it is not much more propaganda for one side or the other than it is informational with a sense of detachment.

Putting aside the Western NGO-funded media that sprang up overnight in the last few months to propagate against the regime, let us consider the very respectable BBC World News broadcast. One of its correspondents recently "reported" that the rebel movement is about "the people in the Western parts of the country wishing their country to become modernized, while on the Eastern side the Russians are laying claim to the region.  If only the situation were as simple as that, as dichotomous in a British-style 19th century imperialist sense, if only it were as clear cut as the East-West conflict of the early Cold War, of spheres of influence that the West wishes to carve out for itself, and if only "the people in the Western parts" really wanted Western integration while the people in the East had to contend with Russian imperialist designs.

There have been many articles written about the three-month uprising in the Ukraine, some contending that it represents a genuine popular desire to split from Russia and become a permanent member of the EU; others arguing that it is the resurgence of a new Cold War that the US and its junior partners instigated. There are also those who believe that to bring the conflict to an end for the duration, the country must split into two parts, East goes with Russia and West and the EU. There are those comparing the situation of Ukraine to that of Syria, while others see it as a repeat of Libya that so far has been nothing less than disaster despite the replacement of a dictator.  There are also some who insist that the US and EU have nothing to do with oligarchs and corrupt politicians, are working to promote democracy, have absolutely no interest in the natural resources or geopolitical advantages Ukraine offers, want to promote a Jeffersonian-style system with social justice and national sovereignty as goals.

From the New York Times, to other major Western news media, the reader is led to believe the uprising in the Ukraine is not much different than the French Revolution. On the Russian side, we see that the uprising is nothing less than a Western-staged coup d'etat intended to grab hold of the country by force. There is no shortage of propagandist opinions regarding what has been happening, especially massive propaganda intended to win the popular domestic backing as well as international sympathy. Which side is closer to the truth, if either one?

A nation of 50 million people, Ukraine is a country with enormous wealth in the primary sector of production, mining, agriculture, and forestry, as well as a substantial manufacturing sector. Moreover, the Ukraine is of enormous strategic importance because of the Crimea and because it borders Russia with its vast energy reserves on which the EU depends to fuel its economy.The struggle for Ukraine within the country is not necessarily just one of identity on the part of the diverse population, but also how the natural resources can best be developed to help the country become wealthy and strong in comparison with its Russian counterpart as well as Europe.

Two of the three main factions in the country have decided to support the uprising against President Yanukovich who declined closer EU integration owing to apparent pressure from Russia, backed with financial aid. Those groups are the neo-Nazis (SVOBODA = freedom) who make no apologies about their ideological and political agenda that is openly pro-Nazi under the leadership of Tyahbnybok, and enjoy roughly 10% of the citizens' backing. The neo-Nazis are at the core of the so-called Euromaiden movement that has been carrying out the well organized and Western-coordinated and financed demonstrations in the winter of 2013-2014. Ironically, the US, Germany and other Western supporters of Euromaiden have found themselves in the odd position of supporting the pro-democracy Ukrainian movement by supporting its elements that include neo-Nazis. This is no different that the US and its Western European counterparts supporting the 'pro-democracy' movements in Syria and before that in North Africa by supporting al-Qaeda elements fighting on the same side as the West.

Some questions here are:
1. Is the Ukrainian uprising spontaneous and grassroots or financed and directed by the West that has its target the natural resources of Ukraine and encircling Russia?
2. What has been the role of Western-funded NGOs operating inside the Ukraine in communications and training?
3. Once Yanukovych leaves will the replacement regime be one that is as democratic as that of Norway or closer to the Yanukovych model with a pro-West orientation?
4. Is the issue supporting the national interests of the Ukrainian people or diminishing their national sovereignty?

The Batkivshchyna (Fatherland Party) also supporting the uprising is closely linked to Germany's ruling Christian Democrat Party under Merkel who want nothing more than to have a major presence in the country that Germany tried to acquire but failed in the two world wars of the 20th century. Germany's heavy dependence on Russia for energy can be moderate if the Ukraine were to be divided into spheres of influence in the manner the Great Powers divided non-Western countries before the First World War.
Toward the goal of integrating Ukraine into a pro-German camp, the UDAR (Punch), is led by Vitali Klitschko who is clearly in Merkel's corner, although the US also has an influence here as well.

On the government side is president Viktor Yanukovych who is totally committed to capitalism (crony capitalism rooted in oligarch-politician clientist relations), but sees that Russia has a strong role to play and without its influence he and his political, bureaucratic and socioeconomic cronies cannot prevail. In short, the political and economic elites of the Yanukovych regime is made up of oligarchs and utterly corrupt officials who see their future with Russian nationalism, instead of Western integration that would also entail austerity and neoliberalism as it has for the full and associate members of the EU.

We have in essence a struggle between pro-Russian integration that entails greater economic nationalism supported by a small circle of people behind Yanukovych, on the one hand, and the pro-West elements that include neo-Nazis, elements of the clergy, businessmen linked to Western interests, and corrupt oligarchs who believe they will have more to gain by Western integration. Hardly the kind of struggle rooted in ideology of the Cold War, the Euromaiden movement is immersed in decadent political clientism of right wing forces domestically and international capitalism with US and Germany as its base.

To help drive Ukraine closer toward Western integration, the IMF has placed the country on its black list, which means that it cannot raise credit in financial markets, thus relying even more on Russia. However, even the West is hardly united behind the Ukrainian rebels, as we now know after the well-publicized telephone conversation between Assistant Sec/State Nuland and the US ambassador in Kiev. Clearly, the US reveals that it sees its EU partners as weak and inadequate to deal with the Ukraine in order to integrate it strategically, politically and economically into the Western zone of influence. The US is not interested about how much influence Germany would exercise in Ukraine, but about US geopolitical role to counterbalance Russian strategic and economic influence in the neighboring country.So, is there US-EU policy convergence on the Ukraine, or does it simply appear as such on the surface?

The aggressive unilateralist line of thinking, however, is bound to fail because US using Ukraine as a sphere of influence is like Russian trying to do the same with Mexico and Canada, later in the 21st century when the US will have declined economically and China would be number one power in the world. The logic of US foreign policy goals is absurd also because Russia's isolation by a strategy of Western encirclement would make it very dangerous from a military perspective, given its nuclear arsenal. Nor can the US or the EU expect Russia to give up access to the Black Sea, or even having a role in the regional balance of power, given how much inroads the US has made in the former USSR republics.

Therefore, if the goal is the continued weakening of Russia, whose goal is to revive the old empire in some fashion, then we can only expect Moscow's closer ties with Beijing where policy convergence makes sense as we have seen in the case of Syria and Iran. Is it in China's interests to see a very weak Russia to the degree that the US would have a dominant presence in the Ukraine and the rest of the former Soviet republics? How is Moscow to respond when it sees that the West and the IMF immediately propose financial aid for Ukraine as soon as Yanukovych is voted out of power, and the US warns Moscow not to make any moves toward its neighbor?  There is the question of how far the US and its junior partners pursue the strange "new containment policy" before the Russian bear fights back. In case the West pushes too far, Russia could raise the price of gas, at least for the Ukraine and tighten the screws to the degree that the Ukraine becomes very expensive Western satellite to maintain.

I will not elaborate on the amounts of covert funding and other Western operations that have gone into the "staged uprising", which many people honestly see as a genuine democratic expression. History will show that like the uprisings in Islamic countries where the West had a major role, the end result today is not more than chaos under tyrannical regimes instead of freedom and democracy, instead of capitalist prosperity intended to create a middle class. Hardly a testing ground from Western democracy, any more than a champion of Russian-style nationalism, the Ukraine is actually both.

At the same time, this is a country in search of an identity and a path that it cannot find because its elites, from the former president Tymoshenko, served a prison term for corruption, to the corrupt president Yanukovych, to the neo-Nazi waiting in the winds for influence and ultimately seizing power. If only the reality in the Ukraine were as simple as all the angels lined up on one side of the rebels, and all the evildoers lined behind the current president that not even the Kremlin trusts; if only the struggle were about ideals of freedom and democracy and not about who would control the riches of the country and who outside the country would exert geopolitical influence.

I find it very disheartening that the media, especially the self-serving and self-righteous Western media that claims to uphold very high journalist standards is nothing more than a propaganda machine reflecting and serving the interests of the political and sociaopolitical establishment. Not that we need the Ukrainian situation to prove this, but one would think that here is a country that is not Islamic, it is not Communist, it is not non-white, so where is the problem with the western media?
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